Australia cannot hide: Gillespie
JASON Gillespie is not a man given to reminiscing, even though his entitlement in that regard is beyond question. A member of perhaps the greatest Test cricket team the world has seen, he was capped 71 times, a staggering 47 of them on the winning side. With 259 Test wickets - a tally that would have been greater but for injuries - he is the sixth most successful Australian bowler of all time.
"It is humbling to be told you were a member of one of the best teams ever to play the game," he says. "But the past is the past and I prefer to talk about contemporary cricket. You appreciate what happened but you should always try to look forward.
Yet ask him about Ricky Ponting, his former captain, who has just about clung on to his place for Australia's home series with India which starts on Boxing Day, and he is undeniably sentimental. Maybe that is to be expected: Ponting was alongside Gillespie when the flowing hair and earrings had their first exposure to Tests in 1996 and was still there when he bowed out a decade later. Ponting may not have scored a Test century in almost two years now but his lack of form cannot change their shared heritage.
"If the selectors decide it's over I can understand why they would make that call," he said. "If you are not performing then questions are going to be asked and guys like Ponting and Mike Hussey are under a lot of pressure. But I have a feeling in the back of my mind that there is something more to come, a twist in the tail. These guys work hard and are incredibly dedicated. You can't write them off.
"It would not surprise me at all if Ponting turned up at Melbourne on Boxing Day and then had a great series against India. If he could do that and go out on his own terms, at a time of his choice, that would be wonderful."
The Ponting debate is not the limit of Australia's soul-searching as 2011 draws to a close. Of eight Tests played this calendar year - the first of which concluded the disastrous Ashes series with an unprecedented third defeat to England by an innings - they have won only three, slipping to fourth place in the rankings. Within the space of 32 days they were bowled out for 47 by South Africa - their lowest all-out total in more than a century - and suffered their first home defeat against New Zealand in 26 years. It is not only Ponting with an uncertain future.
According to Gillespie, however, the demise of Australian cricket has been announced prematurely. "They won in Sri Lanka, drew in South Africa and drew against New Zealand," he said. "To me that is not a terrible record. They probably could have done better but I don't think there are going to be a lot more shellackings.
"People talk about Australia's decline but that takes away credit from other countries. When you think of England, India and South Africa, the teams above Australia in the rankings, they have all worked incredibly hard and you can't just say it is Australia's decline.
"You look at England. They are a great side, No 1 in the world and playing beautifully. Andy Flower and Andrew Strauss can take a lot of credit for that, for the on-field performances and the management of players round the country. The players are fit, strong and well led and everyone seems to be on the same page. If they have taken a leaf out of Australia's book, that's fine - there is nothing wrong with learning from other people to get better. Full credit to them.
"Australia have not played as well as they can but just as we raised the bar, now other teams have raised it higher still. At the moment the teams above Australia are there because they are better. Australia have realised they can't hide from that fact. It is up to the coaches and the players to acknowledge that and I believe they have.
"They have to find a solution but I think they are up to it and if you look at the talent coming through, especially among the bowlers, I don't think there is any evidence that the production line has stopped.
"You ask if Australia should expect a period of transition but I don't see that. I am excited about the young players we have coming through. If you look at James Pattinson and Mitchell Starc, who are both 21, and at Pat Cummins, who is just 18, and whose fourth first-class game was his Test debut, you have three guys capable of bowling at 90-95mph with a lot of wonderful years ahead of them. That's very exciting - not just for an Australian but for world cricket.
"These are guys who people will pay to watch, who will make people want to rush home from work and switch on the TV. There is no greater sight in Test cricket than seeing a fast bowler steaming in and getting the ball up around people's ears, and as a former fast bowler I'm excited about that."
Gillespie is enthused, too, about his own future. At 36 - four months younger than Ponting, though his hair has turned grey - he has laid the foundations for a successful career in coaching, in which role he will spend at least the next two years with Yorkshire, having been appointed in charge of the first team in a post-relegation shake-up at Headingley.
"It is a great opportunity," he said during a pre-Christmas visit to his new place of work, where he met the Yorkshire players before returning to complete his current commitment to MidWest Rhinos in Zimbabwe. He is due back in Leeds at the end of January.
"I wanted to coach in county cricket and when I saw that there was a job here, at a county where I had played, deciding to apply was not difficult. When I was offered the job I did not need long to say yes."
Gillespie's appointment followed some painful months at Headingley. While the players had to bear the brunt of a verbal tirade from chairman Colin Graves, who accused some of not pulling their weight, it was the coaching staff who paid the price. Gillespie's predecessor, Craig White, has taken up umpiring while long-time servants Steve Oldham and Kevin Sharp were among those who simply lost their jobs.
It was a tough time for Martyn Moxon, who survived as director of cricket. Oldham, the bowling coach, was part of the fabric of the club, with an association spanning 37 years. "It was difficult, but we had talked for a couple of years about the need to restructure and streamline the coaching set-up," Moxon said. "We've been lucky in that not only did Jason apply but we have also taken on Paul Farbrace, a vastly experienced coach, whose decision to leave Kent came at just the right time for us. It gives us two high-calibre individuals and it is an exciting time for the club."
The challenge for Gillespie is to put Yorkshire back into the First Division within the two years of his contract, a target that needs to be met, you suspect, if players of the calibre of Tim Bresnan, Jonathan Bairstow and Ajmal Shahzad are not to be tempted, with international careers in mind, to seek new environments.
It is one that does not faze him at all, after working for two years in Zimbabwe, where the collapse of cricket has been the least of that country's problems.
"It is a different world but still one of the best experiences of my life, taking the family, with small kids, to live there," Gillespie said. "Living in a Third World country changes you. My wife and I tend not to sweat the small stuff any more. I loved working there but it makes you realise that cricket is not the be-all and end-all."